Walking in Italy

I do a lot of walking when I travel. In fact, wandering around by foot is one of my favorite travel activities. Some people like driving vacations. I am not one of those people. I won’t get behind the wheel of a car once on this trip, and that’s how I like it.

I learn more about a place by walking. I save a ton of money (on rental fees, gas, parking) by walking, and I minimise stress by walking because I don’t have to research parking or deal with figuring out road signs in other languages.

In Italy, in particular, drivers are notorious for not following the rules, and parking is a headache. A potentially very expensive headache.

So, I walk. Today I put in 10,000 steps by noon. My first day here, when I made three trips to the grocery store alone, I logged more than 14,000. I get lost and turned around a lot, but that’s the only way to learn my way around.

Since walking is so key, footwear is paramount. I have spent years trying to find just the right shoes to bring on trips. On a trip to Prague years ago, I wore the only pair of shoes I brought on the plane. They were a pair of New Balance sneakers.

Throughout the entire trip, people would walk up to me and start speaking in English (usually to ask for money). I was baffled because this often happened when I hadn’t said a word, so it’s not like anyone heard my accent or that I was speaking English.

I got home and asked a European friend what gave away my American-ness. Was it my clothes? Surely it was my camera. What did I need to change to better fit in?

“Did you wear athletic shoes?” she asked.

“Athletic shoes are the only type of shoes I brought,” I said.

“That’s it,” she said. “Europeans only wear athletic shoes when they are doing athletic things. Americans wear them all the time.”

Ever since, I’ve tried to find alternatives for athletic shoes, but nothing has been as comfortable for all that walking.

This time, I think I found the perfect combination.

The perfect travel shoes aren’t just about what type of shoes I bring. It’s also about how many pairs of shoes I bring. I tried wearing the same pair of (yes, athletic shoes) on a long weekend in the US and my feet were killing me at the end of the three days. It turns out that changing up the shoes is as important as the shoes themselves.

A lot of travel gurus advise two pairs of shoes: a bigger pair of walking shoes to wear on the plane and a lower profile pair of sandals in your luggage. I have yet to be able to make that work, because I still won’t have anything cute enough to wear to a nicer dinner or outing or to dress any outfits up. I don’t dress up much when I travel, but I want to be able to if needed. I also want to be able to give my feet a break.

For this trip, I packed three pairs of shoes:

Left to right: Naot Kayla sandals, Keen Rose sandals, Converse classic sneakers, and a pair of compression-style athletic socks

The converse are comfy, breathable, and go with everything, including the dress and skort that I brought.

The Keens are super comfortable, can get wet, and I can walk all day in them. They are my favorite pair of walking shoes ever. I even wear them to work (I teach 7th grade and am on my feet all day).

I would stop with just the two of them except I know how much happier my feet will be if I have a third pair of shoes in the mix. So, I include the Naot sandals. Don’t let the price tag scare you away. They are worth every single penny. They’re cute, can dress up anything, and are super supportive. I can walk all day in them, and have.

My main takeaways:

  • Bring more than 1 pair of shoes; I prefer 3 pairs for long trips or trips where I know I’ll be doing a lot of walking
  • There are plenty of travel writers/bloggers who advocate for packing light light light, and limiting shoes is one way they do it; that’s fine for some. It’s not for me. Keeping my feet happy when I travel is key to a good vacation, and that means a third pair of shoes for a trip where I’ll be doing a lot of walking.
  • Try to avoid shoes that you would wear to the gym, otherwise you will be marked as a tourist immediately.
  • Try to make sure one of your pairs is waterproof. Your feet will thank you on the inevitable rainy day.

As I wander on my current trip, I’m paying attention to what European women wear. On some level, I’ll always look like an American tourist. But I am noticing Birkenstocks everywhere, especially this super-cute style. I will keep that in mind when it comes time to replace my beloved Naots.

One last note: I only bring 2-3 pairs of socks. They’re easy enough to wash in the sink if needed. I like the ones pictured because they are compression-style athletic socks. They’re low profile so hardly visible when walking around and don’t scream “athletics”, yet offer some nice compression to help keep my feet from swelling up by the end of the day.

*I do not receive a commission for any of the products I mention in this post.

Washing Clothes in Italy

Yesterday, I bought produce. Today, it was time to tackle doing a load of laundry.

I thought it would be simple. My host had shown me the order of operations already: First, select the setting I wanted. Then, select the temperature. Put soap in the dispenser, place clothes in the drum, close the door, and pull the handle to start the cycle. When finished, press the (un)lock button to open the door.

In other words, this is like doing laundry at home.

Except of course it wasn’t like doing laundry at home.

At home, I have the option for cold water and a gentle cycle. Here, I have neither. My cycle choices are:

  • Rinse with spin
  • Short spin
  • Rinse without spin
  • Drain (I think; the Italian word is “scarico,” which means “drain” but in context that doesn’t make much sense to me)

For temperature, the closest thing to cold I could get was warm. Cold does not seem to be an option.

My temperature options are:

  • White cottons with pre-wash 60-90 degrees C (140-194 F)
  • Colored cottons with pre-wash 40-60 degrees C (104-140 F)
  • Short cycle cotton 30-40 degrees C (86-104 F)
  • Synthetic with prewash 40-60 degrees C (104-140 F)

This one baffled me. How was there no cold water option? Should I wash my things in the sink? There’s no way Italians wash everything in the sink. If that were the case, there would be no washing machines.

I decided to go with the options that were as close to cold and delicate as I could get: short cycle cotton and short spin.

I put in my clothes. It’s a good thing I only had a few things to wash. The drum was just big enough to hold my two shirts, one pair of shorts, one pair of pants, two sets of socks, and two pairs of underwear. I maybe could have squeezed in one more shirt, but that’s about it.

I put in the clothes, put in the soap, pulled the knob, and waited for the action to begin.

After a few seconds, my clothes started to slowly spin. Then, they spun so fast they seemed to disappear. Calling the spin cycle a “centrifuge” was spot on.

This stop>spin slowly>spin super-fast cycle repeated for about fifteen minutes, and then stopped for good. That was it. That was the entire “wash” cycle. Except, there was no wash. No water entered the machine.

Why on earth would someone choose to spin their clothes around for a while without actual washing?

I tried again. This time I chose “rinse with spin” as my setting, and this time I got water!

About 15-20 minutes later, I had clean clothes that I hung on a drying rack so big it’s taking up most of the living room, which is hilarious when you consider how few clothes fit in the machine for a single load.

Doing laundry while in Italy: complete.

I still have no clue if I used an appropriate amount of laundry soap, but I’m calling this a win and going to bed.

Buying Produce in Italy

I’m in Italy right now. I came for a month, because, well, because I can.

I teach middle school during the school year and have the luxury of my summer off, so I decided to make the most of it. So I’m here in Parma, doing my best to learn my way around my new neighborhood, practice speaking Italian, and embrace living in Italian time.

Today’s mission: find the local grocery store. That’s one of my favorite things to do when I travel. You learn so much about a culture by what is – and isn’t – on the shelves at the local market. Peanut butter? Not a chance. Chestnut spread in the jam aisle? Absolutely.

Other interesting finds: pesto-flavored potato chips, lemon-burrata ravioli, and fun beverages: Lambrusco, the local wine, and Chinotto, the national soda.

I got my things home, including lugging a six-pack of 2 liter bottles of purified drinking water (the pipes are old so the water that comes out of the faucet is safe for cooking and bathing but it’s not advisable to guzzle it by the liter on a hot day). Then I realized I forgot to buy fruit. I wanted to go to the local fruit vendor, but couldn’t find him, and ended up back at the grocery store. I grabbed a few peaches, bagged them up, and headed to the checkout line.

The cashier lifting the bag, and looked confused. I didn’t understand her words, but I understood her body language. She kept lifting and dropping the bag, pantomiming that I needed to weigh the fruit.

I took the bag back, said a quick “mi dispiace” (I’m sorry) and headed back to the produce aisle, hoping I would see what other people were doing.

I saw one guy weighing fruit at a scale. Great! I followed him and put my peaches on the scale after he walked away, only to realize I had no clue how to tell the scale what I was weighing. There were no stickers on the fruit, and no product number (it seemed) on the price tag label on the shelf where I got the fruit. There was only a scale and a keypad with – get this – keys numbered from 1 to at least a hundred. It may have gone higher, I didn’t take notice of when the numbers stopped. I just saw blank number after blank number and no instructions on what to do with them.

I half considered leaving. Putting the fruit back and walking out the door was an option that was available to me.

But in that moment I became even more determined. I was buying that fruit! Those peaches would be mine! There was no way I was letting buying produce in a supermarket beat me.

There had to be a code for the scale. Nothing else made sense. I went back to the fruit stand. I looked at the tag again. And again. I saw the name of the fruit (peche), and the price per weight. I did not see a code.

I put my fruit on the scale, got the weight, and pressed a random number to see what would happen. My button rang my fruit up as l’aranche: Oranges. I had a clue!

The scale was covered with discarded bar code stickers, implying that people screw this up all the time or do exactly what i just did, and leave the discard stickers there.

I put the bar code sticker for the oranges on the scale with the other discards and went back to the peach display. I stared hard at the tag, looking for anything that looked like a code.

I noticed three tiny numbers, each in a separate box. There was a teeny tiny “1” in box. Next to it, there was a teeny tiny “8” in its own box. Next to that was another teeny tiny “1” in its own box.

I went back to the scale.

I put the fruit on the scale, and got my weight. I pressed “1” to see what would happen. The wrong thing rang up. I put the sticker on the scale and tried again. This time I pressed the only other number I had: “8.” It worked! The price tag popped out for my peaches and I headed back to the check out counter. The lady smiled when she saw me back with my properly labeled bag.

I’m still a little embarrassed by the fact that I actually considered giving up. Only for about half a second, but still. Then, on the way home, I found the produce vendor that I had been looking for from the beginning. I bought some apricots from him, no bar code needed.

I have fruit. I have wine. I have Italia. What more do I need?